- Fabio Marcato
From the moment I arrived, Bali captured my heart and has easily become one of my favorite destinations. I'm already yearning to return, eager to immerse myself even more in its beauty, and ensure I avoid any tourist traps. This trip marked my first time setting foot in Bali, and it was nothing short of incredible. Ryan and I embarked on a grand plan to spend an entire month living the digital nomad life, which led us to choose Ubud, a place brimming with cultural richness. We deliberately avoided overly touristy spots and opted for Ubud to experience the authentic local vibe. While Bali is undeniably a tourist magnet, there are still serene pockets that remain untainted.
Stay tuned, and learn how our adventure took an unexpected twist right from the start.
A Comedy of Errors on our Journey to Bali
Our travel saga began with a marathon-like flight from Cape Town to Bali, courtesy of Qatar Airways with a layover in Qatar. Let me tell you, that flight was loooong🤪. I mean, we're talking about countless hours up in the air (around 19 hours).
Now, here's the thing: we were still working on our packing game, and let's just say we had a lot of stuff with us. We were lugging around so much crap (excuse my language) because, you know, our travel plans were quite flexible and loosely defined. So, there we were at the check-in counter in Qatar, and they pull the whole "take out your laptop" routine. I followed the instructions and took it out, but in my rush to put it back, I didn't realize I jammed it between the pages of my passport. And guess what? It ended up tearing right across my lovely face. on the passport photo page. Yeah, not my finest moment.
The Qatar Airways hostess, bless her heart, noticed my predicament at the gate. She had this evil smirk on her face, like she knew the trouble I was about to encounter. But hey, she let me board the flight to Bali anyway, probably thinking, "Poor you, you have no idea what's coming."
The Scam Unveiled: A Midnight Encounter at Passport Control
So there we were, touching down in Bali airport around the stroke of midnight. It seemed like we were the only flight arriving at that time, and we wasted no time joining the shortest line for passport control.
Now, let me paint you a picture: there weren't many checkpoints open, and the whole process was crawling along at a snail's pace. Of course, being the adventurous souls that we are, we decided to opt for the line with fewer people. Little did we know, it was also the most inconspicuous one, tucked away on the right side along the wall.
As luck would have it, when it was my turn for the passport check, the staff noticed the tear on my passport and that's when things took a suspicious turn. He asked if it was my first time in Bali and then whispered, "Follow me quietly, don't make a scene." Meanwhile, Ryan was left in the line with not a clue where I was going. Slowly but surely, I followed the staff member to a separate area where airport police or some authority figures were stationed. To my surprise, there were other bewildered visitors there, all facing problems with their passports.
The officer in charge scrutinized my passport, claiming there was a problem. He bombarded me with questions, wanting to know how long I intended to stay in Bali, where exactly I was headed, and if I had booked a driver to my accommodation. He even insisted on seeing receipts and proofs of my staying in Bali.
Exhausted from the long flight, I answered honestly, divulging every detail. And that's when the bomb dropped—the officer informed me that due to some new regulation in Bali, they were not allowed to let anyone enter the country unless the passport is perfect (according to which standard, I don’t know).
The scam you would't expect - Bali airport scam
I am kind of pissed off and exhausted. After a long flight, all I wanted was to enter the country smoothly since I had already booked everything for a 30-day stay. The immigration officer mentioned a similar case where the person was allowed entry under certain conditions, but unfortunately, their supervisor was not available at the moment. He mentioned that he could attempt to arrange a similar arrangement for me, but it would cost around 800 euros in cash.
At that point, I actually felt relieved because, at least, I had a chance to enter the country. I informed him that I didn't have any cash on me as I had just entered the country, to which he suggested checking my balance at the ATM that was close by. Determined to enter the country, I went to the ATM. However, it wasn't a significant amount, as this was supposed to be a budget-friendly holiday, not the pride week in Tel Aviv .
Luckily, I had a withdrawal limit on my card for safety purposes. I managed to withdraw a few hundred euros, but the officer informed me that it wouldn't suffice. He explained that there were additional individuals involved in the "process" who also required a share of the money. This led to a back-and-forth situation at the ATM, causing further stress as Ryan and the driver waited outside not sure what was happening. Each withdrawal incurred hefty commissions, and I pretended to borrow money from Ryan, as I had presented myself as having only one card with a withdrawal limit (Fortunately, there was Wi-Fi available at the airport, allowing me to communicate with Ryan who was waiting for me outside the country's entrance checkpoint). Eventually, after surviving this ordeal, I managed to convince the officer to issue a stamp allowing me to enter the country by paying approximately 450 euros, 15 of them going to the ATM’s commission.
Once past the border, we encountered other visitors who had also faced similar situations. They were coerced into bribes for absurd reasons, even for minor issues. For instance, they were demanded money, simply because a small thread of the passport page's sewing was visible.
In the following days I was fearing that I would encounter a similar situation when it was time to leave the country. However, fortunately, I had a smooth departure from Bali without any issues thanks to a small bit of tape I used to cover the rip, allowing me to travel back to Europe without complications. Additionally, no other countries were that hardcore at checking my passport's condition from that moment onward 🤣.
This is another kinda scam in Bali: I paid so much for this Kopi Luwak coffee souvenir in a coffee plantation just to discover i could find it for really cheap price in a almost every supermarket in Bali
Navigating Scams in Bali: Lessons Learned and Steps for Safer Travel
So, despite the ordeal, the bargain allowed me to enter the country, but it was undeniably a stressful situation, not just for me but also for Ryan and the driver who had been waiting without a full understanding of what was happening. I have a deep love for Bali, and it pains me to write something negative about a country I hold dear to my heart. However, I believe it is crucial to address this issue and raise awareness, as it would be beneficial for the country if these scams were to cease. By doing so, I hope to contribute to making Bali an even more beloved destination.
Therefore, when you travel, please exercise caution and ensure your passport is in perfect condition. Keep it safely stored in a dedicated bag. I also wonder if choosing a different line at the checkpoint would have yielded a different outcome or if it was simply a matter of encountering a particular person. Hence, I recommend avoiding the shortest and most concealed lines, as unfortunately, I was unlucky in this regard. In the meantime, I wish you safe travels and encourage you to protect your passport by keeping it secure in a dedicated bag.
By the way, I have finally obtained a new passport for future travels.